Trust representatives attend Open Government Partnership conference
Last week, the Building Change Trust organised for a group of Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector representatives from Northern Ireland to attend the Open Government Partnership’s European Regional Meeting, hosted by the Irish Government in Dublin.
The conference brought together representatives of government and civil society from 30 European countries, many of whom have already joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
The OGP is an international framework of government commitments to transparency, accountability and citizen participation.
It functions in each signatory country via a government-civil society partnership, the role of the latter being to both support and hold governments to account for the commitments it has made.
The UK is one of the founding members of OGP and is now implementing its second action plan. The Irish Government also joined OGP last year and released its first action plan at last week’s conference.
Despite both governments signing up, Northern Ireland seems to be falling between the cracks.
This is down to the nature of UK devolution, meaning commitments made by Whitehall departments for the most part only apply in England.
The Trust has identified the OGP as a mechanism that local civil society, especially the VCSE sector, could potentially use to embed citizen participation at the heart of governance in Northern Ireland, to advocate for particular measures to enhance transparency and participation.
Over 1000 commitments have so far been made by governments as part of the OGP towards transparency, accountability and participation.
An independent review of these has asserted that 34% of these commitments could have a potentially transformative effect.
29% of commitments made have so far been delivered on schedule.
In response to a question from Building Change Trust’s Paul Braithwaite on whether Northern Ireland could be part of the next UK action plan, Francis Maude, UK Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, said: “I am encouraged to raise it with the devolved administration”.
Speaking of the event, Mairaid McMahon, The Xchange Project said: "The OGP Europe Regional Meeting was a really great opportunity to hear from others about their experiences of opening up government institutions to public scrutiny and influence.
“I'm looking forward to considering how such an approach could be developed in Northern Ireland, both at local and regional level".
Julia Kenny, Policy and Research Co-ordinator, NIACRO, also attended the event: “The OGP conference was a unique opportunity to learn from other countries. In particular, it was interesting to hear the very different challenges of open government across the globe, be it in post-Soviet Union Georgia or post-revolution Tunisia, and how governments and civil society have overcome problems to develop best practice.
“It was also interesting to discuss how specific elements of open government, such as Digital Democracy, could be extended to Northern Ireland, and how governments can do more to engage people on a long term basis – not just during election periods".
The Building Change Trust is hosting a seminar on the potential implementation of the Open Government Partnership in Northern Ireland on Friday 16th May at Riddel Hall in Belfast. To find out more click here.